At this point in 2020, we have a lot of Chromebooks in different development phases. From a slew of ‘Hatch’ (10th-gen Intel) Chromebooks yet to launch to many more MediaTek-powered devices like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet to the AMD-powered ‘Zork’ devices and more, there are enough new Chromebooks on the horizon to make any Chrome OS fan’s head spin. Without question, there are more upcoming devices in development in the Chromebook world right now than there ever have been at any point in history.
Yet, there’s one Chromebook many of us have been on the hunt for week after week that has yet to show itself: the next #madebyGoogle Chromebook. Not long ago, I’d even conceded the fact that Google may not be making a new Chromebook in-house for the foreseeable future. When you look at how the ecosystem is thriving right now, who could blame them if they just sat out for a year or two? After all, if Google’s intention was to ultimately set the bar for Chromebook manufacturers with the Pixelbook, Pixel Slate and Pixelbook Go, I think we’d all agree that their mission is accomplished at this point.
While I think all of that is true, as a big fan of Google’s hardware, I simply don’t care. I don’t care if Google did their part and put manufacturers on a good trajectory. I don’t care if Google accomplished what they set out to do. I don’t care if there isn’t a market need for a new Pixelbook: the fact of the matter is I want one. And I’m not alone, here. I see comments and receive emails constantly about users who want a new Chromebook and want one that is designed by Google. That’s not to throw shade on other Chromebooks. I love the Acer Spin 713 I’m typing this on right now, but it’s no Pixelbook. Nothing quite is.
There’s something that’s just inherently better about Google’s own Chromebooks: an attention to detail, a quality of build, and a thoughtfulness of design that not only is attractive at launch, but stands the test of time. Take a look at a Pixelbook the next time you see one and tell me another 3-year-old laptop that looks as distinctive yet is still just as aesthetically pleasing as it was on day one. I’ll save you some time: there’s nothing quite like it. Even the 7-year-old Chromebook Pixel retains an air of modernity few laptops can boast from that time. The current Pixelbook Go is designed in the same vein and every time I pick it up, I have an impulsive desire to just return to it again because of the way it looks and feels. Every time.
Proof another Pixelbook may be coming this year
Some of you may think I’m crazy, but if you’ve fallen in love with a Google-made Chromebook, you know exactly what I’m talking about and you should be as excited as I am about the fact that we have some pretty solid proof that a new Google Chromebook is in the works and could realistically be launched by the end of this year just like the past 3 in-house Google laptops before it.
Say hello again to ‘Halvor’ and if – like me – you brushed by this baseboard when we originally reported on it, don’t beat yourself up. You see, ‘Halvor’ is one of an absolute gaggle of new Chromebooks coming that is based on the ‘Volteer’ baseboard. ‘Volteer’ is the main board that is being used to usher in the era of Intel Tiger Lake Chromebooks. These devices will have things like Intel’s new Xe integrated graphics, a 10nm process for faster speeds and improved battery life, support for 4K screens, better webcams, and USB 4. Overall, they will be a fantastic update to the current Chromebooks being launched in 2020 so far and will be the next generation that will carry the flagship banner for Chrome OS into 2021.
Now that we have re-introductions covered, let’s get to the evidence. Tonight as I was browsing through the Chromium Repositories, I came across a commit that contained the message I’ve been seeking for months at this point: a message about the Assistant key. You see, the only Chromebooks ever made with the dedicated Assistant key up to this point are all Google-made devices. The Pixelbook began the trend in 2017, followed by the Pixel Slate in 2018 and the Pixelbook Go in 2019. Sure, there are a couple Chrome OS keyboards with this special key (Brydge and Logitech make them), but no Chromebooks other than Google’s own possess it. ‘Halvor’ is the lone exception:
Volteer: add support for ASSISTANT key on Halvor
Halvor uses the METAL DOME keyboard, which supports ASSISTANT key.
BUG=b:166194260 TEST=scp 81-halvor-keyboard.hwdb into /etc/udev/hwdb.d udevadm hwdb –update reboot DUT, then to launch Google Assistant with ASSISTANT keyvia the Chromium Gerrit
Add to this commit the fact that this change is being made for only one ‘Volteer’ device in ‘Halvor’ instead of across the board for all the ‘Volteer’ derivatives and you have some pretty good evidence that we’re looking at Google’s next Chromebook. We thought at one time we’d see all Chromebooks begin shipping with an Assistant key on the keyboard, but that has simply not been the case. For whatever reason, Google has always kept this to themselves and it is this fact that makes us feel very confident that ‘Halvor’ is a #madebyGoogle Chromebook.
The ‘Halvor’ timeline stacks up, too
There are a few more points that line up very well with a Pixelbook storyline for ‘Halvor’ if you look a bit deeper. First up is the overall timeline. With the Assistant key addition being added just a couple days ago, I was a bit dubious that this device could possibly show up in the fall like other Pixelbooks have. However, when you look at the timelines of other Google Chromebooks, ‘Halvor’ has had plenty of time for development, beginning it’s life in March of 2020 and being based on ‘Volteer’ that began all the way back in September of 2019.
For reference, the Pixel Slate began life in April of 2018 and launched in the fall of that year. For a device on a fresh, new baseboard (the Pixelbook Go would ride that same board into 2019) to start in April and ship in November is pretty impressive, honestly. The Slate was no standard device, either, and had to clear the hurdles of a new display, a new form factor, and a custom keyboard solution. Come to think of it, that’s probably why it’s launch was a bit of a mess.
Going back to the original Pixelbook, the Assistant key was added to it in late June the year it was launched. Back then, the Assistant on a Chromebook wasn’t even a thing, so the fact that Google added the key to the keyboard only 3 months before they announced the Pixelbook tells me that this step is not essential to the overall development cycle of a device. After all, the difference in timing on the Pixelbook and ‘Halvor’ for adding the Assistant key is only two months. With the Assistant being settled in on Chrome OS at this point, a later addition isn’t actually surprising at all.
Finally, a Tiger Lake Chromebook is a logical fit for the next Pixelbook and why I think we could be looking at a Pixelbook 2 instead of something like a Pixelbook Go. The Pixelbook Go launched with a processor that was over a year old at the time to keep pricing down, so the fact that ‘Halvor’ is being built with the best available silicon means Google is likely making a flagship device this time around. Users have been clamoring for a proper follow-up to the original Pixelbook for quite some time now, so this move would make massive amounts of sense for Google at this stage.
With Chromebook adoption through the roof in 2020 and the platform growing in every possible way, the Pixelbook 2 could be Google’s first truly breakout Chromebook made and designed by them. The Chromebook Pixels (2013 & 2015), the Pixelbook and the Pixel Slate were too costly at a time when broader Chromebook adoption wasn’t anything like what it is now. A well-made, high-spec, Google-y Chromebook launched before the end of the year could finally deliver the mass-appeal Chromebook from Google we’ve all been waiting for. Now that we know ‘Halvor’ may be that Chromebook, we’ll be keeping a keen eye out for any further clues we can find.